The Rezillos, The Stitches
Better than . . . getting your head kicked in tonight.
One of the Rezillos' earliest singles was titled “(My Baby Does) Good Sculptures,” but there weren't any statues standing around at their show last night at the Echo, which was only the second time the influential Scottish punk-pop combo has played Los Angeles since starting back in 1976.
The capacity crowd pressed tightly against the stage with pent-up excitement while co-lead singers Faye Fife and Eugene Reynolds shimmied and dashed madly about in a blur of nonstop energy. It was like the duo were living out their own madcap version of the Who's Quadrophenia: Reynolds resembled a surly motorcycle rocker, dressed in black shades and a black leather jacket, while the ever-glamorous Fife portrayed a colorful mod heroine, decked out stylishly in black go-go boots, lacy tights and a lime-green DayGlo mini dress over a slip with sheer black chiffon sleeves.
The Rezillos followed a short but raging set by the Stitches. Although the Orange County quartet didn't form until 1994, they sound more like a 1977-era group than like hardcore thugs or whiny Green Days wannabes and, as such, were a fitting accompaniment with the headliners. The Stitches draw heavily from such proto-punk influences as Johnny Thunders and the Dead Boys, with guitarist Johnny Witmer bending his strings with a leering, menacing intensity and raspy-throated singer Mike Lohrman howling ferally at the moon.
The Stitches used to be a boozy, unpredictable mess onstage, but last night they were tight and punchy, hammering out fast, compact originals like “Sixteen” and “My Baby Hates Me,” as no-nonsense bassist Pete Archer and drummer Skibs Barker kept Lohrman and Witmer in line with precisely delivered accents. Former skate-punk hero Lohrman looked atypically swanky in a dark business suit, but his bratty vocals were as scabrous and insolent as ever, especially on a teeth-rattling, set-closing slam through Shane MacGowan's “That Woman's Got Me Drinking.”
The Rezillos had previously played L.A. only one other time, at a show that quickly sold out at the now-defunct Garage in Silver Lake in 2002. This time around, founding members Fife, Reynolds and drummer Angel Patterson were joined by bassist Chris Agnew and former Nanobots guitarist Jim Brady, who recently replaced original ax-man Jo Callis (who went on to more fame with the Human League after the initial incarnation of the Rezillos broke up in 1979). While Callis, who wrote most of the songs on the Rezillos' 1978 debut album, Can't Stand the Rezillos, was missed, a hardly-shy Brady leaped about impishly and goaded the crowd while holding down the fort with non-flashy power chords.
What made the Rezillos so unusual — then and now — was the way they combine punk rock savagery with almost giddily cheerful pop hooks. Reynolds sneered and snarled his way through tough-guy tunes like “Mystery Action,” while Fife winsomely cooed the cheerier and more melodic anthems like “Flying Saucer Attack.” As the latter title implies, the Edinburgh quintet has always been sillier and wackier than more politically minded peers like the Clash and the Sex Pistols.
But dismiss them as mere jokesters at your peril….
…When Fife belted out a version of the old Ike & Tina Turner classic “River Deep, Mountain High” near the end of the set, her vocals were stirringly soulful as she wailed her fierce romantic declarations with surprisingly intense passion and sincerity. And the Rezillos are far more than an oldies revue, proffering catchy new songs like “Out of This World” that rank alongside their best early tracks.
Another highlight last night was an ebullient, celebratory version of their U.K. hit “Top of the Pops,” a self-fulfilling pop prophecy that, indeed, once landed these Scots on the venerable British pop television program. Written by Callis, the song remains a pure-pop gem, with angelic harmonies ascending alongside fuzzed-out punk chords. One fan was so moved, she leaped on to the stage and made a point of kissing both Fife and Reynolds before stepping back into the crowd.
You could hardly blame her. Some people have been waiting to see the Rezillos in the flesh for decades, and there was an almost messianic fervor as kids in front of the stage tried to touch their heroes. It seems like practically every British band except for the Rezillos has reunited and dutifully toured these shores annually to rake in every last bit of cash from us gullible and naive Angelenos. With the Rezillos, though, you never know when or if they'll ever return. The band appeared to be having a lot of fun onstage, but they don't exude the careerist cynicism of so many surviving early punk groups.
The night closed with a rambunctious version of Jeremy Spencer's “Somebody Got Their Head Kicked in Tonight.” The song was once recorded by, of all people, Fleetwood Mac, but that was in the pre-Stevie Nicks days when the British warhorses were still a legitimate blues band. After being sped up and brutalized by the Rezillos, the song has become a punk classic, although the group has reportedly avoided playing the song at some concerts out of fear that it causes too much violence in the pit.
But there was no disharmony on the dance floor at the Echo. The prospect of getting one's head kicked in last night seemed like it might be fun, as fans pumped their fists and Reynolds and Fife beamed and looked on approvingly.
The crowd: Although there were a few scattered folks in their 40s and beyond, most of the crowd was composed of kids far too young to have seen the Rezillos in their heyday. Most people were seeing the group for the first time.
Random notebook dump: How does Faye Fife manage to look so young and effervescent after all of these years?
Set list below
Out of This World
Flying Saucer Attack
Getting Me Down
It Gets Me
Top of the Pops
(My Baby Does) Good Sculptures
River Deep, Mountain High
I Can't Stand My Baby
Somebody's Gonna Get Their Head Kicked in Tonight (encore)